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HAVING WRITTEN so much upon both the inspiration and the interpretation of Holy Writ, it is necessary, in order to give completeness unto the same, to supply one or two articles upon the application thereof. First, because this is very closely related to exegesis itself: if a wrong application or use be made of a verse, then our explanation of it is certain to be erroneous.
For example, Romanism insists that “Feed my sheep” ( John 21:15-17) was Christ’s bestowal upon Peter of a special privilege and peculiar honour, being one of the passages to which that evil system appeals in support of her contention for the primacy of that Apostle. Yet there is nothing whatever in Peter’s own writings which indicates that he regarded those injunctions of his Master as constituting him “Universal Bishop.”
Instead, in his first Epistle there is plainly that to the contrary, for there we find him exhorting the elders or bishops, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” ( 1 Peter 5:2,3).
Thus it is quite clear from the above passage that Christ’s precepts in John 21:15-17, apply or pertain unto all pastors. On the other hand, our Lord’s words to Peter and Andrew, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” ( Matthew 4:19) do not apply to the rank and file of His disciples, but only unto those whom He calls into and qualifies for the ministry. That is evident from the fact that in none of the Epistles, where both the privileges and the duties of the saints are specifically defined, is there any such precept or promise. Thus, on the one hand, we must ever beware of unwarrantable restricting the scope of a verse; and, on the other hand, be constantly on our guard against making general what is manifestly particular. It is only by carefully taking heed to the general Analogy of Faith that we shall be preserved from either mistake. Scripture ever interprets Scripture, but much familiarity with the contents, and a diligent and prayerful comparing of one part with another, is necessary before anyone is justified in dogmatically deciding the precise meaning or application of any passage.
But there is further reason, and a pressing one today, why we should write upon our present subject, and that is to expose the modern and pernicious error of Dispensationalism. This is a device of the Enemy, designed to rob the children of no small part of that bread which their heavenly Father has provided for their souls; a device wherein the wily serpent appears as an angel of light, feigning to “make the Bible a new book” by simplifying much in it which perplexes the spiritually unlearned. It is sad to see how widely successful the devil has been by means of this subtle innovation. It is likely that some of our own readers, when perusing the articles upon the interpretation of the Scriptures, felt more than once that we were taking an undue liberty with Holy Writ, that we made use of certain passages in a way altogether unjustifiable, that we appropriated to the saints of this Christian era what does not belong to them but is rather addressed unto those who lived in an entirely different dispensation of the past, or one which is yet future.
This modern method of mishandling the Scriptures—for modern it certainly is, being quite unknown to Christendom till little more than a century ago, and only within recent years being adopted by those who are outside the narrow circle where it originated—is based upon 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Very little or nothing at all is said upon the first two clauses of that verse, but on the third one, which is explained as “correctly partitioning the Scriptures unto the different peoples to whom they belong.” These mutilators of the Word tell us that all of the Old Testament from Genesis 12 onwards belongs entirely to Israel after the flesh, and that none of its precepts (as such) are binding upon those who are members of the Church which is the Body of Christ, nor may any of the promises found therein be legitimately appropriated by them. And this, be it duly noted, without a single word to that effect by either the Lord or any of His Apostles, and despite the use which the Holy Spirit makes of the earliest Scriptures in every part of the New Testament. So far from the Holy Spirit teaching Christians practically to look upon the Old Testament much as they would upon an obsolete almanac, He declares, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the (Old Testament) Scriptures might have hope” ( Romans 15:4).
Not satisfied with their determined efforts to deprive us of the Old Testament, these would-be super-expositors dogmatically assert that the four Gospels are Jewish, and that the Epistles of James and Peter, John and Jude are designed for a “godly Jewish remnant” in a future “tribulation period,” that nothing but the Pauline Epistles contain “Church truth,” and thousands of gullible souls have accepted their ipse digit —those who decline so doing are regarded as untaught and superficial. Yet God Himself has not uttered a single word to that effect. Certainly there is nothing whatever in 2 Timothy 2:15, to justify such a revolutionizing method of interpreting the Word: that verse has no more to do with the sectioning of Scripture between different “dispensations” than it has with distinguishing between stars of varying magnitude. If that verse be carefully compared with Matthew 7:6, John 16:12 and 1 Corinthians 3:2, its meaning is clear. The occupant of the pulpit is to give diligence in becoming equipped to give the different classes of his hearer “their portion of meat in due season” ( Luke 12:42). To rightly divide the Word of Truth is for him to minister it suitably unto the several cases and circumstances of his congregation: to sinners and saints, the indifferent and the inquiring, the babes and fathers, the tempted and afflicted, the backslidden and fallen.
While there be great variety in the teaching of the Word, there is an unmistakable unity underlying the whole. Though He employed many mouthpieces, the Holy Scriptures have but one Author; and while He “at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets” and “hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” ( Hebrews 1:1,2), yet He who spoke by them was and is One “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” ( James 1:17), who throughout all ages declares: “I am the Lord, I change not” ( Malachi 3:6). Throughout there is perfect agreement between every part of the Word: it sets forth one system of doctrine (we never read of “the doctrines of God,” but always “the doctrine”: see Deuteronomy 32:2; Proverbs 4:2; Matthew 7:28; John 7:17; Romans 16:17, and contrast Mark 7:7; Colossians 2:22; 1 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 13:9) because it is one single and organic whole. That Word presents uniformly one way of salvation, one rule of faith. From Genesis to Revelation there is one immutable Moral Law, one glorious Gospel for perishing sinners. The Old Testament believers were saved with the same salvation, were indebted to the same Redeemer, were renewed by the same Spirit, and were partakers of the same heavenly inheritance as are New Testament believers.
It is quite true that the Epistle to the Hebrews makes mention of a better hope ( Hebrews 7:19), a better testament or covenant ( Hebrews 7:22), better promises ( Hebrews 8:6), better sacrifices ( Hebrews 9:23), some better thing for us ( Hebrews 11:40), and yet it is important to recognize that the contrast is between the shadows and the substance. Romans 12:6, speaks of “the proportion [or “analogy”] of faith.” There is a due proportion, a perfect balance, between the different parts of God’s revealed Truth which must needs be known and observed by all who would preach and write according to the mind of the Spirit. In arguing from this analogy, it is essential to recognize that what is made known in the Old Testament was typical of what is set forth in the New, and therefore the terms used in the former are strictly applicable unto the latter. Much needless wrangling has occurred over whether or not the nation of Israel were a regenerate people. That is quite beside the real point: outwardly they were regarded and addressed as the people of God, and, as the Spirit through Paul affirmed, “who are Israelites: to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises: whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came” ( Romans 9:4,5).
Regeneration or non-regeneration affected the salvation of individuals among them, but it did not affect the covenant relationship of the people as a whole. Again and again God addressed Israel as “backsliders,” but never once did He so designate any heathen nation. It was not to the Egyptians or Canaanites that Jehovah said, “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings,” or “Turn, O backsliding children...for I am married unto you” ( Jeremiah 3:22,14).
Now it is this analogy or similarity between the two covenants and the peoples under them which is the basis for the transfer of Old Testament terms to the New. Thus the word “circumcision” is used in the latter not with identity of meaning, but according to analogy, for circumcision is now “of the heart, in the spirit” ( Romans 2:29), and not of the flesh. In like manner, when John closes his first Epistle with “Little children, keep yourselves from idols,” he borrows an Old Testament term and uses it in a New Testament sense, for by “idols” he refers not to material statues made of wood and stone (as the prophets did when employing the same word), but to inward objects of carnal and sensual worship. So too are we to see the antitypical and spiritual “Israel” in Galatians 6:16, and the celestial and eternal “Mount Zion” in Hebrews 12:22.
The Bible consists of many parts, exquisitely correlated and vitally interdependent upon each other. God so controlled all the agents which He employed in the writing of it, and so coordinated their efforts, as to produce a single living Book. Within that organic unity there is indeed much variety, but no contrariety. Man’s body is but one, though it be made up of many members, diverse in size, character, and operation. The rainbow is but one, nevertheless it reflects distinctly the seven prismatic rays, yet they are harmoniously blended together. So it is with the Bible: its unity appears in the perfect consistency throughout of its teachings. The oneness yet triunity of God, the deity and humanity of Christ united in one Person, the everlasting covenant which secures the salvation of all the election of grace, the highway of holiness and the only path which leads to heaven, are plainly revealed in Old and New Testament alike. The teaching of the prophets concerning the glorious character of God, the changeless requirements of His righteousness, the total depravity of human nature, and the way appointed for restoration therefrom, are identical with the Apostles’ teaching.
If the question be raised, Since the sacred Scriptures be a strict unit, then why has God Himself divided them into two Testaments? perhaps it will simplify the matter if we ask why God has appointed two principal bodies to illuminate the earth—the sun and the moon. Why, too, is the human frame duplex, having two legs and arms, two lungs and kidneys, etc.? Is not the answer the same in each case: to augment and supplement each other? But, more directly, at least four reasons may be suggested.
First , to set forth more distinctly the two covenants which are the basis of God’s dealings with all mankind: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace—shadowed forth by the “old” from Sinai and the “new” or Christian one.
Third , to demonstrate more clearly the wondrous providence of God: using the Jews for so many centuries to be the custodians of the Old Testament, which condemns them for their rejection of Christ; and in employing the papists throughout the dark ages to preserve the New Testament, which denounces their idolatrous practices.
Fourth , that one might confirm the other: type by antitype, prophecy by fulfillment. “The mutual relations of the two Testaments. These two main divisions resemble the dual structure of the human body, where the two eyes and ears, hands and feet, correspond to and complement one another. Not only is there a general, but a special, mutual fitness. They need therefore to be studied together, side by side, to be compared even in lesser details, for in nothing are they independent of each other; and the closer the inspection the minuter appears the adaptation, and the more intimate the association....The two Testaments are like the two cherubim of the mercy seat, facing in opposite directions, yet facing each other and overshadowing with glory one mercy seat; or again, they are like the human body bound together by joints and bands and ligaments, with one brain and heart, one pair of lungs, one system of respiration, circulation, digestion, sensor and motor nerves, where division is destruction” (A.T. Pierson, from Knowing the Scriptures).